For nearly 35 years I’ve run my own games magazine, originally by post and now of course by email. Some really expert gamesplayers have taken part, and one game we played with great success was, believe it or not, Snakes and Ladders.
Here’s an introductory version we’ll call Invisible Snakes, and Ladders. As the Gamesmaster, I’ll publish a board showing only the Ladders. I am the only person who knows the positions of the snakes, but I will tell you they’re not positioned randomly (for example, their heads may be on multiples of 11 with each snake sending you back 6 spaces). Furthermore, each player may choose their own die-roll each turn, with the proviso that in your first six turns you must use each number 1,2,3,4,5,6 exactly once. For the next set of turns you again have to use each number once – this is easily managed by giving each player a set of 1 to 6 cards.
So as the game goes on players can deduce something about the nature of the snakes and plan how to make the most of their knowledge by using their die rolls to the best effect. It’s a game full of observation, hypothesising, and strategy.
Of course, I can make things a little more interesting by making the Ladders invisible as well as the Snakes.
And when you play with really expert gamesplayers they’ll want things to be as challenging as possible. So if you’ve got invisible snakes and invisible ladders, the next step is to make the board invisible as well!
So now we really do have something close to Ultimate Snakes and Ladders. As well as having to deduce the positioning and effects of the snakes and the ladders, players have to find how the board is laid out. Is it a normal S&L board or a conventional Hundred Square? Does the numbering run from left to right or in another direction? Is the board in ten columns or six, or eight, or eleven? In fact, is the board rectangular at all (I recall we used triangular layouts and perhaps even circular ones)?
I recently heard an eminent maths educator say Snakes and Ladders held no interest because it was purely random, so that’s why I’ve done this series of four posts. And I haven’t even mentioned shrinking ladders (which wear down as they’re used), or growing snakes (which expand as they feed), let alone boards with Trap Doors!
Our new National Curriculum in England demands that mathematics should incorporate Fluency, Reasoning, and Problem-Solving, and there’s no reason why Snakes and Ladders shouldn’t stimulate all three of these aims.